After an enthralling event on Lake Champlain, the top B.A.S.S. circuit has a quick turnaround for the season-ending Farmers Insurance Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River.
1 / 18
The Elites head two hours northwest of Plattsburgh, N.Y., to the Village of Waddington to finish out the 2021 Elite season. Besides awarding $100,000 and a blue trophy to the winner, B.A.S.S. will crown the Bassmaster Angler of the Year and Rookie of the Year, determine Classic berths and settle requalification to the series.
2 / 18
The 94 Elites can fish U.S. waters of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. This will be the 21st B.A.S.S pro level event on the smallmouth haven, which has long ranked high on Bassmaster Magazine’s Best Bass Lakes. It topped the list in 2019 and ranked 12th best of the decade.
3 / 18
The St. Lawrence Seaway, all 1,900 miles of it, is a major shipping waterway that drains the Great Lakes, the largest freshwater system in the world, to the Atlantic Ocean. It also serves as part of the international boundary between Canada and the U.S.
4 / 18
Whitaker Park in Waddington is tournament central, with the daily launches leaving at 7 a.m. ET and weigh-ins each day at 3 p.m. ET. Family friendly expos will open on Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m.
5 / 18
The festivities help add to the huge crowds at Elite weigh-ins in Waddington, which have posted attendance records including the record of 36,200 in 2018.
6 / 18
Big smallmouth bass also help reign in fans. Paul Mueller brought in this 7-pound, 13-ounce smallmouth in last year’s tournament. His personal best is believed to be the largest ever caught in Bassmaster competition, and that freak of nature helped Mueller to a 27-1 bag and a lead through the first three days.
7 / 18
Chris Johnston stayed with Mueller in their two-man runaway, supplanting him on the final day to become the first Canadian to win an Elite event. Fishing Lake Ontario and the mouth of the river, Johnston brought in bags of 27-0, 24-12, 23-0 and 22-12 to win with 97-8, just shy of becoming the first to earn a B.A.S.S. Century Belt on smallmouth.
8 / 18
Johnston, who grew up fishing the region, said he expects it will take nearly 20 pounds a day to reach Championship Sunday. “The smallmouth are going to be catchable deep and shallow,” Johnston said a couple weeks ago. “Our fish only get a short (seasonal) window to feed. They’re spawning right now and when they come off the beds, they’re going to be gorging themselves.”
9 / 18
Running St. Lawrence can be treacherous, as evidenced by Cliff Prince catching air last year, but getting to the bigger bass in Lake Ontario will be even trickier. Launching in Waddington adds another 65 miles from last year’s blastoffs, so strategy will be critical. “You’re an hour and a half from the mouth, then it depends on how far you want to go (into Lake Ontario),” said Johnston, adding many anglers have reason to go for broke. “A lot of those people are probably going to say, ‘There’s so many big fish in the lake, I’m just going to gamble and go for a win.’”
10 / 18
Mueller made the rough ride in from Ontario last year, and this year running to the lake will be more of a gamble. “The big thing about the lake is if you get big winds, it can kill (your productivity),” Johnston said. “I’ll be surprised if anyone can do it for four days in a row … A couple of people are going to catch them, but a lot of people are going to strike out … Personally, I think the fish in the lake get less pressure and I think there are some big ones grouped up. But you’re only going to get to fish for three or four hours out there, so you've got to be on ’em really good.”
11 / 18
Weather, especially wind, is a critical factor in that equation. Conditions are always a major consideration to each angler’s plan on the St. Lawrence.
12 / 18
Staying in the river is a safer play, but those anglers can get bunched up throwing Ned rigs and drop shots on productive spots like main-river humps, sunken islands and rock/sand transitions 20- to 40-feet deep. Anglers fishing shallow will throw jigs, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and drop shots. Lake angers will target rocks.
13 / 18
Goby are a forage of smallmouth, and their introduction has helped the smallies increase in size. Baits mimicking the tasty morsels will be abundant.
14 / 18
Seth Feider comes into the event with a 55-point lead in the Angler of the Year race. Feider has finished no worse than 34th in five previous events there, but he still holds worries that disaster could strike and said he plans to play things safe in the river.
15 / 18
KJ Queen took over the Rookie of the Year lead at Champlain, standing 24 points ahead of Bryan New. Matt Robertson is 27 back and Justin Hamner, who scored a Top 10 at Champlain, is within range with 480 points. Joshua Stracner and Marc Frazier are in position to give the 2021 rookie class six to qualify for the 2022 Classic.
16 / 18
Bryan Schmitt won at Champlain and moved inside the Classic cut. The 39 automatic berths and two double qualifiers puts the Classic cutline at 41st, but that could increase as the St. Lawrence winner receives an automatic berth and there are Basspro.com Opens that could move that line deeper. There are a number of pros near that cutline that could move in or out depending on their finish this week.
17 / 18
Also on the line is requalification to fish the Elite Series in 2022. B.A.S.S. will extend Elite invitations to 12 Opens anglers and the B.A.S.S. Nation champion, and with plans to cut the field to around 90 will mean some will be fishing for their Elite lives and others will be eliminated. Live coverage for all four days of the event can be streamed on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms. FS1 will also broadcast live with the tournament leaders beginning at 8 a.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday.